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iPod look-alike packs extra surprises

Posted: 19 Feb 2009 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:iPod look alike? Esolo MP4 teardown? player multimedia?

The Esolo MP4 multimedia player caught the attention of a Portelligent colleague in a highway convenience store checkout rack due to its striking visual similarity to Apple's second-generation iPod Nano. We scooped it up for the princely sum of $40 so we could examine design used inside. As it turns out, a labyrinthine set of suppliers and murky component identifications leave almost as many questions as answers.

The external branding of the multimedia player is Esolo, from Esolo Digital, a Houston-based importer who claims to be aligned with "over 100 factories in China."

The similarities between the Esolo and iPod Nano start with the customer packaging, where an almost identical acrylic case to that used for the Apple player holds both player and accessories of USB cable, headphones and a silicon rubber case, something Apple does not include. The USB interface for the Esolo relies on a standard mini-USB connector compared to the proprietary interface of the Nano.

The Esolo MP4 multimedia player will definitely catch attention for its striking visual similarity to Apple's second-generation iPod Nano. (Click image to view teardown.)

Disassembly was simple. Removal of two small screws on one of the plastic end-caps allowed the entire electronics assembly to be slid out of the extruded and anodized aluminum shell. Like Apple's design, the manufacturer's logo and other product data is laser etched on the anodized extruded case exterior.

Two circuit boards are held into the slide-out molded plastic tray, connected by a polyimide flex and affixed to the plastic by differing means. The upper board, which supports the display on one side and primary electronics on the other, relies on heat-staking. The lower board, which carries the battery and user-interface (UI) buttons, uses four screws, perhaps in an attempt to better fortify the UI assembly against the rigors of button pushes.

Unlike the iconic scrollwheel feature of the Nano, the Esolo offers a five snap-dome keys serve for all navigation. An on-off slide switch along the top of the Esolo is the only other UI feature other than the USB and headphone jacks on the bottom. Another important UI difference is in the display. Apple uses a bright TFT LCD, which fills the entire display window cut in the Nano case, the Esolo has a 1.4-inch color super-twisted nematic (CSTN) panel surrounded by a generous dark frame of blank space.

Battery power is supplied by a single Li-ion cell operating at 3.7V with a claimed capacity of 150mAh. Henry Technology supplies the finished cell, which does incorporate a battery-protection circuit based around a CS213 IC, the first of several devices that defy ready identification. At least the design uses some form of charge control in a nod to safety.

Compare and contrast
Despite a feature set that matches and arguably exceeds the Apple Nano given the included FM radio and voice recorder functions in the Esolo, system software is clearly behind Apple's implementation with a very clunky interface and challenging compatibility issues. Still, very few chips are used in the design, and the images provided here are worth comparing with an earlier Under The Hood teardown on the Apple 2G Nano where both component count and PCB sophistication are higher at the expense of manufacturing costs.

In the Esolo, the primary ASIC that handles all multimedia and control processing is marked AK1025. A search on this part leads to a rabbit-warren of sites discussing mostly firmware hacks for the chip. One such site equates the part to established player Actions Semiconductor's ATJ2091 multimedia SoC part. Actions, based in China, may have here been copiedActions' logo and that found on the AK1025 chip share similarities yet are still distinctly different. Either way, the AK1025 supports all MP3, MP4 and JPEG decoding along with the audio CODEC and LCD driver functions on a chip just 3.6mm x 3.9mm in size.

The second chip encountered is clearly associated with the FM radio function and is mounted to a small daughtercard likely used to accommodate FM chip alternatives in the overall design. Package labeling of "RD2008" and "4708" is ambiguous, although the latter is probably a date code. Perhaps the part is a confusingly marked RDA5800 from RDA Microelectronics or CL6010 from Comlentboth Chinese companies doing FM radio chips with matching packagesbut the die mark of "CS1000A" would point in a different direction. CreSilicon of Shanghai was founded in 2007 and produces a CS1000 FM receiver that is claimed to be pin- and software-compatible with NXP's TEA5767.

The most clearly genuine component found was the K9LAG08U0B 16Gbit NAND flash chip from Samsung (verified by die marks), a two-chip stack that provides the 2Gbyte of storage capacity for the player. Board markings point to Bkeestar as the ODM company behind the core board design, at least based on PCB silk-screen legends.

- David Carey
President, Portelligent

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